DEER ISLE — An anonymous donor has purchased a 43-acre parcel near Olivers Pond on the west side of the island so that Island Workforce Housing can develop rental units.
“We’re losing a generation because it’s too expensive to rent or buy on the island right now,” said Mike Wood, chairman of Island Workforce Housing.
Deer Isle and Stonington residents formed the nonprofit last year to address what they describe as a “severe shortage of housing that is affordable to the island workforce.”
The 43-acre parcel is in South Deer Isle near the Deer Isle-Stonington town line, a location the group had hoped to find, Wood said. The number of rental units that will be built there has not yet been decided.
Wood said the housing issue affects the entire island community — from businesses to schools.
Stonington’s Economic Development Director Henry Teverow said the situation is critical.
“I know of a lobster dealer in town who hasn’t had a day off in about three months because he can’t find dock workers,” Teverow said. “There are restaurateurs who have had to reduce their opening hours because they can’t find front of house or back of house staff.”
“The town had to search for a public works employee for months before finding one — and the guy commutes from Bangor every day,” Teverow said. “It can be a health and safety issue as well.
“Without adequate, affordable housing for local workers, an economy and community dissolves.”
Island Workforce Housing will own and develop the land for rental housing, Wood said. There is no firm timeline for the project as of yet.
“We are going slow so that we can ensure community support and help,” Wood said. “We hope to hire an architect so that we can finalize plans over the winter and get Planning Board approval.”
The organization plans to fund construction of the proposed development with grant money, fundraising and a mortgage.
“It is going to be a heavy lift but we feel there is support among our community members,” Wood said.
“We’re thinking along the lines of people who want to live on the island and don’t have the money or the credit rating to buy land or buy a house,” Wood said. “They can’t find year-round rents because there are so many people who use their housing to do Airbnbs [short-term vacation rentals] — they make more money in three months than they do renting on a yearly basis.”
The target renter for the development might be a teacher or someone working for a plumber or at the nursing home or the grocery store who’s currently driving 20 miles to work on the island everyday because they can’t find housing they can afford, Wood said.
“People who want to set down roots on the island and can’t,” Wood said. “The young person who’s trying to get going.”
The housing problem has affected the entire island from employers to schools, according to a strategic plan the group did last year.
“The population of younger workers and young families has dropped significantly over the past 20 years, and as a consequence, the school population is dwindling dramatically,” the report states. “Employers cannot attract new employees because of the cost of housing, causing some businesses to scale back, close or relocate.”
“If the school population continues to drop, it will be impossible to maintain quality local schools, and the year-round community that the schools anchor will fall apart,” the report stated. “Deer Isle-Stonington is quickly becoming a place where only the elderly and the wealthy live, and transient vacationers visit in the summer season.
“But as services and amenities vanish, it is possible that the tourists, summer residents, retired populations and the economic stimulation provided by these people may vanish too. Who will staff the needed restaurants, stores, and other services? Who will volunteer for the fire departments, or the ambulance corps? Who will teach in the schools, and care for the residents at the nursing home?”
Island Workforce Housing hired Camoin Associates, which has an office in Scarborough, to study the island’s housing needs.
The firm estimated that as many as 85 rental units are needed.
There are two key constituencies that need rental housing on the island. They include island workers who cannot afford a home on the island and commute from towns off the island — some as far away as Belfast and Bangor.
The other group in need of rental housing is those who live on the island but live with their parents or pay more than they can afford or move continually each year in an effort to find more affordable rentals.
The Camoin study was made possible thanks to the Maine Community Foundation, which found $7,500 in grants for the project from the Belvedere General Charitable Grantmaking Fund and the Emily and William Muir Community Fund II.
Several island residents are involved on the housing group’s board. They include: Linda Campbell, Peter Roth, Stonington Selectman John Steed, William Anderson, Maggie Kirsch, Rene Sewall, Stonington’s Economic Development Director Henry Teverow, Roger Bergen, Harry Caldwell, Connie Carroll, Lori Connor, Jay Corvan, Dana Durst, Eliza Harrison, Kimberly Hutchinson, Josephine Jacob, Stu Kestenbaum, Lynn Kneedler, Jack March, Nicole Neder, Woody Osborne, Dick Paget, Susan Toder, Carol Walsh and Bob Winters.